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Poster: Purple Gel Date: Feb 14, 2009 9:32am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

While Zappa was definitely ahead of most in his musical development, he was never really into improvisation or ad-libbing in his music. To me,that is the beauty of much of his work, that it would sound as if the band was totally riffing, when in fact everything was written down and he did not allow the musicians to stray from the written text, even for live performances. One of the aspects of Zappa's true genius was that he was able to actually write down music that ended up sounding truly improvised. To me he was, and still is, one of the greatest musicians ever.

Also, just to nit-pick a little, Zappa came out of the L.A. music scene, not S.F., and, in fact, often ridiculed the whole Haight/Ashbury, S.F. Hippie scene. He was also 100% against any drug use.

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Poster: rastamon Date: Feb 14, 2009 9:45am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

though i never heard him in person, i think he forbid pot smoking at his shows(?)

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Poster: bluedevil Date: Feb 14, 2009 12:32pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

Kicked Lowell George out of the Mothers due to a little tune called Willin'

... but he did introduce Adrian Belew to the wider world

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Poster: NoiseCollector Date: Feb 14, 2009 8:56pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

And don't forget Steve Vai, thank Zappa.

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Poster: snori Date: Feb 14, 2009 9:58am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

He did indeed ridicule the S.F. scene and all it's imitators. 'We're only in it for the money' takes huge swipes at everything from Sgt Pepper to fashionable 'hippies'.

But if you're right that he didn't improvise isn't it odd that he would take recordings of his live guitar solos and edit them into studio recordings ?

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Poster: Purple Gel Date: Feb 14, 2009 1:14pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

Zappa was very much a control freak when it came to his music. This is not to say that he didn't change arrangements or licks or solos. In fact he did that on a regular basis. I'm not saying he never improvised, but I don't think that he can be classified as an ad-libber, or "jammer" when it came to his music. I do know that as a rule he viewed himself as a composer and wanted his pieces played exactly as he wrote them to be. Of course, as the composer, he may have felt that he could change his musical parts as he pleased. Certainly, the other musicians were expected to strictly adhere to the music as it was written.

I was lucky enough to see him 5 times in the 70's and he was constantly changing the arrangements on his tunes. Often, songs were almost unrecognizable until the you could figure out the lyrics. Many songs changed from tour to tour.

I know he did dub live guitar solos into some of his albums. As we all know from listening to the Dead, or any other live music, even when the same solos are played, there is just something different between a live and studio sound. Studio music often just sounds so rehearsed, whereas live has a rawer more immediate, and yes, a more improvised sound to it. Also in the course of a live solo, maybe some notes or phrases were changed on the spur of the moment, and perhaps some of his solos were left up to his imagination. If so, for Zappa, that was the exception, not the rule. Also, as we all know, a lot of the feel of a solo or piece comes, not just from the notes themselves, but from the texture, the phrasing and emphasis. Perhaps that was what he was looking for.

Or maybe he was just lazy and figured if he'd already recorded it live, he may as well just use it...(actually from all accounts he was extrememly motivated and a perfectionist when it came to his music).


This post was modified by Purple Gel on 2009-02-14 21:14:58

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Poster: midnight sun Date: Feb 14, 2009 2:56pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Very interesting- 1966 Frank Zappa instrumental based on a seldom played but familiar Dead Jam- Handsome Cabin Boy

hey Purple Gel,

"Certainly, the other musicians were expected to strictly adhere to the music as it was written."

yeah...i'm gonna have to go ahead and completely disagree on this one

Eat That Question
Blessed Relief
Grand Wazoo
Big Swifty
Waka/Jawaka
(and many, many more...)

aside from outlining the form (chord symbols, motifs, background cues...) there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the numerous extended solos performed by his musicians during these epic pieces were pre-conceived and written out by FZ

This post was modified by midnight sun on 2009-02-14 22:56:52

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Poster: Purple Gel Date: Feb 14, 2009 6:11pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Frank Zappa and Improvisation

The fact that there was not very much improv is not an opinion, it is a recorded fact. Read "No Commercial Potential" sometime, Zappa' biography, or any number of interviews. The structure and precision of the music is mentioned far more often than any aspect of improvisation or jamming.

Again, That's the beauty of Zappa's music, it sounds off the cuff and jammed, but it ain't. This was not necessarily Jazz ("Jazz is not dead, it just smells bad" FZ, Roxy & Elsewhere), he considered his music closer to classical. Two people he cited as big influences were Stravinski and Egdar Varese, a couple of classical composers who were known for complicated, intricate and unusual compositions.

Just because something sounds wierd and improvised does not make it so. It doesn't mean that it wasn't composed and written down that way. Waka Jawaka is a wonderful Zappa composition, there is absolutely no improvisation in that album. It's an amazing piece of work that was composed and conducted by him. He says in one segment below that some of his musicians couldn't read music, so I assume they would have to learn it by heart. You can see that he regarded his musicians as employees and demanded the same discipline as you would an orchestra.

Here are a couple of interview segments, as a matter of fact GRAND WAZOO is specifically reffered to in the last segment (GRAND WAZOO and WAKA JAWAKA, which featured many of the songs you mentioned, were released about 4 months apart in '72 and featured pretty much the same lineup).

JON WINOKUR - One of the things that I appreciate about your music is its precision. Are you a taskmaster?

FRANK ZAPPA - Well, I'm not murder on them, but I don't let them mess around. Just because it's a rock 'n' roll band is no reason you shouldn't have the same discipline and precision that you ask for in an orchestra- after all, you're handing a guy a paycheck.

AND:

from RockBill, Nov. 1984

Q: Do you score all of your music?

FZ: It's either written down on a piece of paper or I know what I'm doing before I start spending money in the studio. No jam session.

Guitar World 4/87

Q: Do you see a conceptual continuum between, say, "Call Any Vegetable" and Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar? Or between the Mothers 0f Invention and the Mothers of Prevention?

FZ: There are some links, yeah. The main drawback of the medium I'm working in is, until I got the computer I was locked into making music based on the assets and/or liabilities of the guys in the band. In other words, if you want to write something that's faster than what the guys can play, you can't hear it, because they can't play it that fast. Or if you want something for an instrumentation that you don't have in the band, then you won't hear it. But now that I can do it with a computer, that's not a problem anymore.

Q: Was it always that way? When you were writing parts for, say Roy Estrada, or anybody in the early days for instance, it was all charted out, and-

FZ: N0--because, the only time I ever had a band where everybody could read [music] was the band that had Jean-Luc Ponty and Ralph Humphrey, and Ian and Ruth [Underwood] and George [Duke], that was a reading band. And Grand Wazoo, that was a reading band. All the rest of 'em were like half-and-half. Half the guys could read, half of 'em couldn't.
.
.

In some of his later interviews he talks about how he likes working with computers because he has complete control and doesn't have to deal with the human element.

Once again, there are some mentions of improvisation, however it is obvious from reading interviews with Zappa that his focus was on discipline and precision rather than jamming.

I found these articles and many other Zappa interviews at a nice site:

http://home.online.no/~corneliu/interviews.htm

There is an interview with Gary Barone who played trumpet for Zappa in '72 in a band called "Petit Wazoo", a smaller version of the Waka/Wazoo bands, and he does mention that while much of the compositions, i.e. the GRAND WAZOO songs that they played live were played strictly as composed, a second group were loosely composed and subject to some evolution and there were some primarily blues and "groove" jams that were pretty much some form of improvisation, although he seems to suggest that there may not have been extensive improvisation.

Q: Your repertoire consisted mostly of brand new material that had never been played by a band before. In later Zappa ensembles, such songs would often evolve a lot during rehearsals, and change radically before they went on the road. Did this happen with the Petit Wazoo, or did Frank bring definitive, finalized versions of the songs?

GB: The repertoire consisted of three "sets" of songs: the first was the Grand Wazoo arrangements cut down for the smaller band--these were rehearsed and definitive versions. The second group of songs was rehearsed, but not set in stone--they evolved somewhat as we played them. The third group were "jams"--mostly entirely improvised (blues, grooves, etc.). I would have to hear the pieces again to say "how much" they were improvised.

This was probably one of the "jazziest" of Franks bands. He would come and play at the jam sessions in some of the cities on the tour. He seemed to get off playing with the "jazzers". He was amazing. Although he didn't come from the jazz idiom, he wanted to learn more--and sounded good doing it. I really respected him: his ability to put out so much music and so many ideas.




Zappa was an amazing artist, one of my favorite musicians ever, I love listening to his music and own at least 20 of his albums. However, I don't think you can include him in a jam band category, his music was too structured, albeit wierd.


This post was modified by Purple Gel on 2009-02-15 02:11:16

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Poster: NoiseCollector Date: Feb 14, 2009 6:59pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Frank Zappa and Improvisation

I concur, he did write out just about everything... right down to the weird post impressionist misuse of piano keyboards. The fact that he did even makes it all that more remarkable and unprecedented.

I put him just about on top of the list of most talented musical composers of all time.